Being able to count on your kids to lie down and take a nap is something every parent and caretaker needs and depends on. Days can feel crazy long otherwise and you find yourself falling apart when you don't have a break. So, when napping stops, and you hear your child in their room playing, crying or swinging from the chandelier, it kind of feels like the worst thing ever.
What are you supposed to do? Should you leave them in there? Go get them? Stop putting them down all together?
When my oldest stopped napping around age 3, and my daughter followed suit when she was 2, I was exhausted and irritated. Like every other mom, I counted on that time to catch my breath and take a nap every once in a while myself. Parenting from the crack of dawn until bedtime makes for a cranky mom and I was no exception.
After a few weeks of continuing to put them down, I would hear them playing around upstairs and go get them after half an hour. I felt like I couldn't put them in their room to nap anymore. I'm not sure if I thought it was cruel or what, but it never occurred to me to keep on with nap time.
After a day or so, my fuse was even shorter, and so was theirs. Even though they stopped sleeping every day, they still needed some downtime where they could lie down or sit in a quiet, dark space.
I walked into my pediatrician's office and she could tell how exasperated I was, as I told her how I thought the glory days of nap time would last much longer. Honestly, I was planning on putting my three kids down every single day until they went to school. Was I asking too much?
My pediatrician saved my frazzled nerves that day. She gave very specific instructions to reverse the lock on their doors and lock them in (after making sure their rooms were extra safe), explaining to them they still have to go in their rooms and be very quiet until I came to get them.
It was a lifesaver and I ended up doing this with all three of my children until they reached kindergarten.
She told me to tell them they didn't have to go to sleep if they didn't want to, but to pull the drapes shut and tuck them into bed, anyway. And make sure I did it at the same time every day.
I asked her if that was safe. I mean, locking a child in their room for an hour wasn't something that occurred to me. She reminded me it was much safer than having them leave their room and get into something a lot more dangerous. She also said it would literally take a few days of them trying to get out of their rooms before they realized they couldn't and they would give up. And guess what? She was right.
I'm sure you're wondering—but, no, my kids weren't traumatized and they weren't scared. I told the kids to knock on the door if they really needed me and I'd be right in. I also made it clear they didn't have to go to sleep if they didn't want to, but I'd still shut the drapes and tuck them in at the same time every day.
It worked like a dream. They realized they didn't have a choice, while I felt good knowing they were safe in their room and not roaming around the upstairs. Some days, they still fell asleep.
It was a lifesaver and I ended up doing this with all three of my children until they reached kindergarten. They were better behaved because of it; the downtime was doing just as much for them, if not more, than it was doing for me.
Don't think you are doomed because your child stops sleeping during the day. These tips got me through the toddler years and beyond. Even if our kids don't fall asleep, they can still take a respite and give us one, too. It just makes everyone happier.